Floor Sleeping FAQ: Pillows, Positioning, Pain, and More

Practical answers to common questions and concerns about sleeping on the floor.

Updated:

After reading my story of how I fell into floor sleeping, many people have reached out to me with questions.

Unfortunately, I don’t always have the answers. But I have done quite a bit of research into the topic and learned a lot of practical lessons the hard way. And maybe more importantly, I think I’m reasonably impartial on the topic: I’m not a shill sponsored by the mattress industry nor a die-hard hard-surface-sleeping proselytizer.

So, if you’re curious about floor sleeping or struggling with it, hopefully something in this FAQ will help you sleep better at night and wake up best prepared to seize the day.

How in-depth has floor sleeping been studied?

About as deep as my floor bed.

For instance, one of the most-cited papers by other articles on floor sleeping, The influence of bed firmness on sleep quality, studied only nine men over five nights.

Given this, neither I nor anyone significantly more qualified can claim to provide firm counsel on floor sleeping.

Generally, the most honest but boring answer to any question will be something along these lines, “It depends. Tinker to find what works for you, use your judgement, and take your time.”

What are the potential of sleeping on the floor?

Here are the most commonly reported benefits.

I’ve listed them in order of my assessment of the likelihood of them being true, from highest to lowest:

  • Lower temperature. This is a pro in warm climates but a con in the cold, or if your personal thermostat runs low.
  • Space. With a fold-up floor sleeping setup like the one Kim and I have—tatami mat and futon—you need one less bedroom.
  • Savings. Even a fancy futon and tatami is cheaper than a basic bed and mattress.
  • Adaptability. When you’re comfortable sleeping on the floor, you can sleep anywhere.
  • Independence. You can sleep beside your partner while still having your own sheets and space.
  • Mobility. Getting up and down from the ground forces you in positions most people haven’t been in since preschool.
  • Creativity. Ditching your bed is an example of “acting your way to a new way of thinking.”
  • Better sleep. Data from my Oura ring says that’s the case for me, at least.
  • Fewer sleep wrinkles. It may encourage you to sleep more on your back, which stretches and squashes your precious facial skin less.
  • Pain reduction. This benefit gets plenty of anecdotal support, but the largest study on it, of 313 adults over 90 days, finds that medium firmness leads to less pain than full firmness.
  • Better posture. Some say sleeping on the floor puts your spine in a more natural alignment, which carries on throughout the day.
  • Circulation. Other sites claim your weight is more evenly distributed when sleeping on the floor. All I can say is that when I tried using only a yoga mat for padding, my blood circulation was so restricted that my legs and arms fell asleep (and I didn’t).
  • Safety. One less hiding spot for the Boogie Monster.

Bear in mind my self-justifying biases in reporting these benefits. In my defense, I’d argue I think I have less to gain in convincing you to floor sleep than all the sleep websites do in convincing you to continue sleeping on expensive “sleep systems.”

Is sleeping on the floor uncomfortable?

Yes.

Part of that is by design. The slight discomfort forces you to shift positions at night, which can actually help you wake up less stiff and sore in the morning.

But your sleeping surface shouldn’t be so uncomfortable that it wakes you up in the middle of the night. If this happens to you, consider adding padding to ease your transition.

How long does it take to get used to sleeping on the floor?

It certainly won’t happen overnight.

And it depends on the firmness you’re used to and your body’s ability to adapt.

Generally, rather than go too hard, too fast and potentially endure many nightmarish nights waiting to adapt (weeks-worth, in my case), gradually transitioning will be less disruptive.

This can take a while.

One of floor sleeping’s strongest advocates, Katy Bowman, author of an excellent book, Move Your DNA, writes on her blog, “it took me eighteen months to go from my mattress of five years to a 3″ foam mattress pad I got from Costco.”

Is it better to sleep without a pillow?

If you’re used to using a pillow while sleeping on a bed, keep using one during your move to sleeping on the floor to ease the transition. Then, once you’re used to floor sleeping, try progressively smaller pillows to see if it makes a difference.

As for whether it’s worth working toward de-pillowing your sleep, there’s a head-spinning amount of tossing and turning on the topic.

Many “sleep experts” say it’s good for your spine, but they generally are the same people who endorse softer mattresses.

Historically, humans have been using pillows for thousands of years. But, until the Romans and Greeks got soft, they were made of stone or wood. And those pillows were just as much to keep creepy crawlies out of eardrums as for ergonomics.

Currently, babies slumber wonderfully without them. However, part of that may be because they have proportionally bigger heads and more mobile arms to sleep on.

Aesthetically, one paper, Sleep Wrinkles: Facial Aging and Facial Distortion During Sleep, suggests that the facial skin tension caused when side and stomach sleepers rest their heads causes wrinkles. In this case, a pillow that diffuses the pressure may be beneficial.

Practically, experiment to find what works for you based on your sleeping position (back, stomach, or side). A thinner pillow that can be folded, unfolded, or scrunched to adjust for height can be handy.

Will sleeping on the floor help back or neck pain?

As mentioned under the possible benefits of sleeping on the floor, many people claim floor sleeping reduces spinal pain. But no study supports this.

From an evolutionary standpoint (sleep-point?), it makes sense. Hunter-gatherers never had memory foam. And modern tribes like the Hadza in Tanzania don’t seem to have spinal issues like the Western world.

But hunter-gatherers also don’t sit around on chairs, couches, and car seats all day, hunched over with their spines in the shape of cashews shapes looking at screens.

Can you sleep on the floor if you’re a stomach/side/back sleeper?

Back and stomach sleepers may find it easier to migrate to firmer sleep surfaces because they lie flatter with their weight distributed over a larger area.

Side sleepers, like me, may need more cushioning and more time to transition.

And what about training yourself to sleep in a different position?

Based on my experience trying to learn to stomach and back sleep to make my hasty move to the floor more tolerable, I don’t recommend it.

Focus on getting accustomed to a new sleep surface first. As you get used to increasingly harder surfaces, you may find you naturally sleep more on your back.

Isn’t sleeping on the floor dirty?

It can be.

You’re closer to air particulates that congregate in higher density on the floor. Also, if you leave a mattress on the ground without ventilation below (such as a tatami mat), moisture, mildew, and mold can accumulate.

But these disadvantages can be easily averted by regularly airing out your floor bed and keeping your home clean.

Me taping my mouth to force myself to nose breath at night

What if you have allergies?

I’m not an allergist. I’m prone to confusing correlation with causation. I couldn’t find anything but hearsay about increased allergy risk from sleeping on the floor. So let me contribute my own hearsay:

First, do people from cultures that sleep on the floor suffer more allergies than lofty soft-sleepers? Obviously, there’s a lot more contributing to these differences. But a lot seems to come from being too sterile.

Second, if you suffer from allergies, shut your mouth. Physically. When you sleep. I mean, tape it shut.

I used to suffer from seasonal allergies and sneeze mightily from dust mites. But ever since I reeducated myself to breath through my nose instead of my mouth, those “allergies” faded.

Is sleeping on the floor only for minimalists, monks, and married men with mad spouses?

You forgot campers and poor students.

But more and more people who don’t belong to any of those groups seem to be making the move and feeling better for it—like my wife Kim and me.

And you?

Hopefully something in this FAQ has helped you make the right move.

How did you end up sleeping on the floor?

If you’re interested, you can read the story of how I fell into sleeping on the floor or watch it:

YouTube video

Other questions, doubts, or opinions?

Please share it in the comments.

About the author

👋 I'm Chris. Everything you read on TheZag.com is my fault. This site is like a gym for your comfort zone, full of challenges to make your status quo sexier. Join my 'Consider This' newsletter for a fun new challenge every 10 days. Try it!

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